Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Creating Croissants at Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop

Sammy's birthday present was a class on making croissants and Danish pastries at Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, He's just finished adding the blackberries and raspberries to a pan of cream-filled Danish pastries. 

The Danish pastries, hot from the oven. Note the ways in which they are ideal -- rich brown tones, a slight shine from the whole-egg glaze, lots and lots of flaky layers visible because they were layered and cut correctly, berries still whole and plump.

What's a delicious way to spend a Monday evening? Baking croissants and Danish pastries at Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop comes right at the top of the list. Ten people assembled on October 19 to learn the secrets of Anchorage's best croissants. Rachel Saul taught the class, with April and Lisa assisting. The pay-off, after three hours on our feet, was boxes full of croissants that we'd shaped and baked -- traditional, chocolate-filled, ham and cheese -- and Danish pastries with cream cheese or frangipane and berries.

A perfect chocolate croissant, with crisp egg-glazed crust, too many layers to count, and plenty of chocolate.

There are many magical treats wrapped in wheat flour. One of the most mysterious is the combination of a yeast dough and pure butter, layered together in a "laminated" pastry. It's also called Viennoiserie dough, and is rich with eggs and sugar.Croissants, Danish pastries (which in Denmark are called Viennese bread), and brioches are examples. All are made from a thin slab of butter, wrapped in dough, then folded and rolled, again and again, to make dozens of fine layers. When the pastries are baked, the water in the butter turns to steam and keeps the layers separate. The proteins in the flour and butter, and the egg glaze all combine to create the crisp brown crust.

April pouring drinks for us before class starts.

As we came into the warm bakery, April and Lisa handed us Fire Island aprons, and offered us foccacia, coffee, and drinks. Rachel gave us each a sheaf of recipes and notes, and led us into the back kitchen. We did every step needed for making croissants, from measuring the ingredients to mixing the dough, rolling it and laminating it with the butter, filling and shaping the pastries, baking them, and of course, eating them at the end. 

Rolling a croissant into the classic shape.

The most important thing to know about making croissants is that you are learning a technique for making layers of dough and butter. Butter melts at room temperature (and bakeries tend to be much warmer than most rooms), so the trick to keeping it layered with the dough rather than melting into it is to keep everything cold.

Mixing the dough with the industrial-strength machine.

  • The dough gets mixed in two stages, beginning with egg yolks, flour (Fire Island uses a mix of organic all-purpose white flour and some whole wheat), water, and pre-ferment (a chunk of yeasted dough that has been rising for at least a day), and let this rest for twenty minutes. The resting (technical name, "autolyse," which means to take up water by itself) lets the flour soak up some of the water. 

  • Add the yeast and salt, and mix thoroughly. Then add the sugar and butter, gradually. Continue mixing until the dough all looks the same.
Window pane test -- this dough has enough gluten development that it can be stretched thin to let the light through without tearing. It's ready to start working with.
  • Continue mixing until you can take a piece of dough and stretch it very thin -- called the window pane test. That shows that the gluten is beginning to "develop," that is, to make the chains of gluten proteins that make wheat-based doughs so stretchy. The gluten chains will capture the carbon dioxide bubbles that the yeast is making as it eats the starches in the flours and turns them into sugars.
  • Separate the dough (depending on how much you are making) into "pillows" -- somewhat rounded but flat pieces of dough. Cover them tightly with saran wrap or other flexible plastic and put into the freezer for about an hour. The essential steps that make the croissants so flaky mostly have to do with keeping the dough and the butter chilled. Take the pieces of dough out of the freezer and roll out into flat sheets about 4 millimeters (three-eighths of an inch) thick. Wrap and freeze again until solid. 

Slicing the  Plugra butter (very high in butter fat) for the butter layers in the croissants.
  • Next, flatten the butter.

Rachel pointing out the thickness of the partially rolled butter. She sliced the butter thin, put it between two sheets of silicone, and used the "sheeter" machine to roll it out to 1/4 inch thick.

A rolling pin works too, and the workout saves you a trip to the gym.

 The 1/4 inch sheet of butter laid onto the dough.

Folding the dough over the butter for the first time.
  • Put the layer of butter onto the sheet of dough, and fold it (instructions are here at traceysculinaryadventures.com   -- she has excellent photos and descriptions of the layering, folding, and rolling processes).
Rachel covering the dough with plastic to keep it from drying out, before putting it in the freezer.
  • Once the first set of folding and layering is done, the dough goes into the freezer for an hour or so. 
Folding and running the dough through the sheeter -- we did this several times.
  • When it comes out, it gets folded and turned and folded again. Then it goes back into the freezer for at least twenty minutes. When it comes out, it's ready to be rolled out, cut and shaped into croissants.   

Class members shaping classic croissants.
  • At this point, it's time to pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. A website (traceysculinaryadventures.com) shows one way to cut and shape the croissants; the photos below show the Fire Island way. Rachel emphasized using a very sharp knife or pizza cutter, and taking care to keep the cut edges safe from being crimped or mushed together so that as the dough rises the layers stay separate and can puff up during proofing and baking. 

Partially trimmed dough, with the box of chocolate bars. The trimmings from the pastries, like the piece in front, get tossed with cinnamon and sugar and baked into monkey bread.

 Rachel measures and trims the sheet of dough before using a five-bladed cutter for the chocolate and ham and cheese croissants. Consistency is critical -- the customer (you and me) wants the same wonderful chocolate croissant every time.

The properly rolled chocolate croissant, with two chocolate bars in each one. The seam of the croissant goes flat against the tray (which is lined with parchment paper).
  • Set the shaped croissants on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper leaving a couple of inches on all sides. Cover them with a sheet of plastic or plastic wrap, and set them to "proof" in a warm place for twenty to thirty minutes (that is, to rise -- they should get to be about twice the size they were when you first shaped them).
 Danish pastries filled, decorated, and ready to bake. The back two have a cream cheese filling topped with blackberries; the front two are filled with frangipane, a sweet almond mixture.

Into the oven -- note how far apart they are on the baking sheet, to make sure that they have maximum space to rise and brown.
  • When you're ready to bake them brush the tops lightly with a pastry brush dipped into a beaten whole egg. Be sure to only brush the tops. If the egg gets onto the cut edges, it will seal them so that they don't spread apart to make the flaky high-puffed desirable croissant.
Finished croissants, ready to savor.
  • Bake them for about nine minutes, then turn the pan around to make sure that they are baking evenly, and bake another nine minutes or until dark golden brown. 

Rachel showing the many-layered interiors, and the exteriors that flake onto the pan because the top layers baked just right.

For hours or to contact Fire Island, click here. They have the same hours (7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) at both their South Addition location (1441 G Street) and their brand new Airport Heights location (16th and Logan, just off Lake Otis).

The new Fire Island on a rainy opening day.

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